Friday, July 30, 2010

TOP STORY > >Gililland says it’s worth it

All four of Danny Gililland’s children have now graduated from high school, but the Pulaski County Special School District school board member says that is no reason for him not to seek re-election for the Zone 5 board seat on Sept. 21.

“I don’t do this for my children; if that were the only reason, that would be the farthest thing from what I’d do,” Gililland said.

“Being on the board has cost me in time I would have gone to concerts, soccer games and other activities with them, with my family. I believe very strongly in public education. I am inthe situation I could put my kids in any school that I wanted them to go to.”

Gililland ran for school board in 2002 and lost, then was elected in 2006. He says he decided to run after years of involvement with his kids’ schools (all attended Cato Elementary, Northwood Middle and North Pulaski High), serving on various committees at the school and district level. A teachers’ strike in the late 1990s, when his daughter was in school at Cato, is what sparked

Gililland’s interest in the school district.

“I started attending board meetings and got very interested in what was going on and how things were working,” said Gililland, who has doubts about his opponent, Tom Stuthard, who before Wednesday had never attended a school board meeting.

“I am sure he will do a fine job if elected, but I attended board meetings and was active in the district for eight years before running,” Gililland said. “You don’t decide to run and then show up at a board meeting. Picking one issue is the wrong motivation.”

Gililland, 52, owns a Popeye’s franchise. He and his wife, Lynda, have lived in north Pulaski County for more than 20 years.

Gililland said when he came on the board, he was against the idea of a separate school district for Jacksonville and north Pulaski County, but has since changed his mind about that.

“I used to think that there were too many small districts and that a bigger district would have more to meet the needs of the kids, but a bigger district is also a bigger bureaucracy,” Gililland said. “The longer I have been involved, the more I understand the need for community-based schools, especially for Pulaski County. There are so many communities it is hard for the district to care for all of them. A separate district would be good for the community, not too small, but small enough to be a good community-based district.”

Gililland said that he hoped to bring some “common sense and business sense” to the board and “voted consistently against new schools for Maumelle and Sherwood.

“The schools needed to be replaced, but I believe we spent way too much money. We could have had very nice schools for way less money.”

One thing Gililland has not waivered on since joining the board is his belief that the district’s students would be better served without Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers (PACT) representing the teachers in collective bargaining. As Gililland sees it, the union uses its power to fight over petty issues that wind up costing the district money that should go to directly benefiting the students.

Gililland recalled a battle with teachers at Sylvan Hills Middle School a couple of years ago.

“The principal had asked teachers to stand in their doorways during class change to make sure students got to class and greet their students,” Gililland said. “We paid over $100,000 to pay those teachers for that time. That is just wrong. This is one thing that sticks in my craw so badly it just bothers me.”

In another instance, the North Pulaski High School site-based committee, on which Gililland served, had come up with a plan to add remediation and enrichment time to the school day, but for the added period to be long enough (a minimum of 20 minutes), the school day would need to be lengthened by five minutes.

“The teachers balked, saying that they should have union pay,” Gililland said. “One union member on the committee spoke up, saying ‘what about the kids?’ and I stood up and applauded her.”

In the end, the idea never did get off the ground, because central office administration nixed it. But to Gililland, that is a prime example of why the union should go.

“Things like that drive me crazy – having to pay people to greet the bus in the morning and make sure they get on the bus in the afternoon,” Gililland said. “It wound up costing us $1.2 million a year for bus duty, recess and lunch duty.”

He said that the proposed teachers’ contract would have not gotten his vote last December if it had come to that. The agreement had been signed off on by chief negotiators for both sides and ratified by teachers and only needed a board vote on Dec. 8 to be official.

“Of the about 70 finally recommended changes to the final (contract), four were changes that the board had asked for. That is not give and take, and I wouldn’t accept it. Anytime we give PACT an inch, they run with it as far as they can, and they are hard to stop.”

Instead of voting on the tentative agreement, the board voted to immediately withdraw recognition of the union. That vote was declared “null and void” in April by Judge Tim Fox of the Sixth Division of Pulaski County Circuit Court. Fox ruled that the board had the authority to withdraw recognition of the union, but had failed to adhere to the process mandated by state statute. A subsequent decertification vote by the board was also thrown out by Fox for the same reason. In his July 12 ruling, Fox ordered the district and union to engage in mediation to resolve their differences.

Gililland says he had concerns months ago that the district’s second attempt to meet state requirements to decertify the union and establish a personnel-policies committee (PPC) to take its place might fail. The committee, as it turns out, was not set up in time prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, so that non-negotiated teacher contracts could replace those currently based on the professionally negotiated agreement between the district and PACT.

“I saw that the PPC was not getting formed quickly enough,” Gililland said. “(Former Acting Superintendent) McGill and the attorneys said that we have no control over that, that we move forward with what we control. I was under the impression we were okay with that.”

Gililland said although he hasn’t been happy with the way events have unfolded in the almost eight months since the sudden vote to withdraw recognition of the union, he doubts things would be any different if the district adhered to every requirement of state law and the contract with teachers in its effort to sever the relationship.

“The union would still file a lawsuit and all of this would just be at a later time,” Gililland said.

Gililland said he might have a more positive attitude about PACT if the leadership would cooperate with the district in dealing with teachers who are bad apples. His requests to Marty Nix, PACT president, to rein in those who use personal-leave time for vacations during the school year – rather than for purposes of personal business as spelled out in the teacher contract – have been rebuffed, he said.

“She told me her job is to defend the teachers,” Gililland said.

Despite his differences with union leadership, Gililland says he has no animosity toward the union or teachers. He is troubled by the characterization being promoted in a petition calling for his resignation that his desire to cut ties with the union is out of malice.

“I have no personal agenda or personal vendetta,” Gililland said. “I have been an advocate for the children in everything I’ve done. If the union issue weren’t on the front burner right now, I would be really surprised to have an opponent. I just haven’t had people complain.”